While we all like to think that we meet our clients' needs and that our quality of service is tip-top, there are still occasions when our clients disagree! In the current climate, clients have become very choosy, and feel more confident to say when they are not happy with something. So before it gets to the stage where we start to look foolish, lose our clients or they take matters further, here are some helpful tips for dealing with complaints:
1. Let the client have their say. When someone is angry or upset it is helpful for them to have the opportunity to "let off steam". It also indicates to the client that you are willing to take the time to listen.
2. Say you are sorry to hear what has happened. This does not mean you are admitting that you or the firm are in the wrong, but that you are sorry the client thinks this is the case and is upset. This apology often goes a long way to placating the client and brings them to a less emotional state of mind from which you can discuss the situation on a rational basis.
3. Listen actively. Show that you are listening by using listening noises such as "Yes", "right", "OK". Check your understanding by reflecting back what has been said. Make notes as you go along, and if this is happening in person, make sure that the client can see what you are writing as this builds trust.
4. Find out the facts by questioning effectively. Make sure you get to the heart of the problem. Often there can be more than one problem - make sure you find out all of them. Remember that the client may not always voice them in order of importance.
5. Keep an open mind and do not make assumptions. This is easier said than done, but vital if you are to remain in control of your thinking and the situation. If the complaint is about something that someone else has or has not done, then aim to be impartial – don’t defend or criticise your colleague or firm.
6. Do not argue or be defensive – this will simply wind-up your client further! Instead, concentrate on the situation (facts), not the personalities, and focus on solutions. The more solution options there are for the client to choose from, the greater the chances of a satisfied customer.
7. Ask the client what outcome they want. This is really why they are complaining in the first place: they want something done! So, do they want someone to visit and talk through the problem? Or do they want another copy of a document sent by courier? Try to build on the client’s ideas and suggestions.
8. Explain what you cannot do and concentrate on what you can do. For example: "I am not able to access the file/network at present however I can get you a copy by two o'clock by courier, or by one o'clock if I fax it to you." Be careful only to provide solutions that are within your control, and allow yourself enough time for your actions to be sanctioned, if that is necessary.
9. Do not impose your own solution or agree to whatever the client has asked for, just to get them off your back. You must reach a solution that both you and the client find acceptable. So ask them which solution they would prefer! This involves them in the process and gives them back a feeling of control.
10. Always summarise what you have agreed. Remember to check that the client understands what you cannot do, what you are going to do, and agree on a deadline.